A Book Devoted to Fresh and Brackish Water Puffers
By: Robert T. Ricketts


A Book Devoted to Fresh and Brackish Water Puffers

Title: The puffers of fresh and brackish waters
Author: Dr. Klaus Ebert
Publisher: AQUALOG Verlag
ISBN: 3-931702-60-X
Statistics: Hard cover, 96 pages, ~300 pictures, short chapters on pufferfish biology and maintenance, details on freshwater and brackish water puffers (36 species), geographic sections of pufferfish distribution, plus a section of marine puffers commonly found in brackish conditions when immature.

This book is not inexpensive, but Aqualog volumes never are. With the number and reproduction quality of the numerous photographs always seen from this publisher, low cost is hardly possible. The author of this book is a biologist with a long-term interest in puffers and he includes personal notes from his experiences with many of the puffers we see available to us.

I do not always agree 100% with his comments, as he considers some of the puffers “community fish”, but I believe that his definition of community is a group of conspecifics, not a mixture of different species of fish. That position I take with a large grain of salt. However, he does emphasize in several places that these fish have significant individual personalities within a species, so that individual behavior is not uniformly predictable.

The author or editors take pains to disavow the use of the text as a taxonomic reference, which is fine for the taxonomists. For hobbyists, the pairing of scientific and common names with excellent pictures is an invaluable resource. Now we can discuss a particular fish among ourselves with this book as a common language “dictionary”, ensuring that we are all talking about the same fish. This alone is worth the price of the book for me. In the world of hobby puffers it is routine for a thread on the boards or the former puffer list to go several cycles before it is realized that folk are discussing different fish. Unfortunately, not everyone will be able or willing to invest in the book, but it has to help long-term with developing some consistency in what we call these fish.

The author does point out the differences in the behavior and sociability of the various FW (fresh water) and BW (brackish water) species, and the generalization that the BW species commonly seen are more sociable than many of the FW lurking predators. Occasionally his scientist rather than hobbyist background may get in the way of understanding and communication.

He reports that for him, certain common species may be kept in groups of conspecifics (do note that this is not the hobby meaning of “community”) without difficulty, adding that any members of the “community” that develop fin-nipping habits are simply removed. Yeah, sure. For a scientist, or for the dedicated hobbyist with dozens of tanks, and frequently with volumes of premixed specialized water on hand, certainly this can be done without much difficulty. For the average hobbyist with fewer than a handful of tanks, this may not be so easy or certain.

I do trust Dr. Ebert’s descriptions of the fresh water versus the brackish water fish in the group, and his careful notes that many or most species are quite adaptable on water chemistry. In several places he pulls in anecdotal reports from his personal experience, which are helpful in showing the difference in the same species kept in differing conditions. For example, the author describes the Common Spotted Puffer, Tetraodon nigroviridis, (which is called in this book the Green Puffer) kept in freshwater as being only half the size as the same species kept in brackish or marine water. His version of brackish water by the way is approximately 25-30% of normal hobby marine water.

His notes and comments on puffer care are generally quite good as well. He does point out the importance of water changes for these fairly messy fish. They are not quite as sloppy eaters as are Oscars, but they are not far behind. Being predators and having a wide range of activity levels, their food requirements are also quite varied. I really appreciate his notes on the frequency or lack thereof on feeding these beasts – the difference in a tank of highly kinetic Common Spotted puffers and a T. suvattii resting in its cave is huge. As with Goldfish and many Cichlids, avoiding overfeeding these beasts is not easy for the novice, or even the more experienced hobbyists whose long-tern experience may be more with grazers than obligate predators. Folk with long-term reptile and other herps experience may be more at home with feeding the lurking predators than is the average fish hobbyist.

Dr. Ebert does seem to accept, as do many puffer keepers, the requirement for trimming the incisors of some of these fish. This rather surprises me, as I expected him to emphasize the significance of snails, crustaceans and shellfish in puffer diets for tooth wear and maintenance. But I’m willing to accept that as his individual style. I just wish he had expanded a little on natural techniques for maintaining a healthy bite along with the well-presented technique for tooth trimming he does offer.

Unfortunately, and perhaps my biggest complaint with the whole volume, is that he calls two very different fish (T. nigroviridis and T.fluviatilis) both by the same common name. Perhaps this is only a translation or editing issue (the original is in German), but it is potentially quite confusing to English-language hobbyists. The common name used in this book for the T. nigroviridis is “Green Puffer” – perhaps that is the case in Germany. The latter fish is the “False” Figure-8 puffer often called the Ceylon Puffer; the former is the Common Spotted or Green Spotted Puffer, at least in my local fish stores and generally in the USA. The “true” Figure-8 is T. biocellatus, both in his text and locally for me.

In the broad geographic sections by continents or large areas (Africa, Asia, South America) there are multiple photos of the commoner species, showing many variant markings and greatly assisting in identification of these confusing fish. Many rarely seen or never seen in the trade puffers are included as well. The multiple pictures of the recently introduced and confusing to ID “dwarf” puffers are a great help also. As an aside on that particular puffer, the dwarf puffer, Carinotetraodon travancoricus, now it appears that there is only one species in captivity. Taxonomic clarification is needed there as well as in the genus Tetraodon and in fact over the entire family.

The book does show how and why these fish are so fascinating and personable. It should help dispel many myths and mis-understandings about this family, and it makes them more practical for tank-keepers ready to move beyond community tanks to more specialized – and to me more interesting – fish. Certainly it is not a volume the novice is likely to purchase, but then neither should these fish be casual novice purchases either. The book does give more than enough information for any hobbyist to be able to successfully maintain any FW or BW puffer that I have seen in the trade. That is far more than I can say about the other books in my collection. If you have an interest in these fish, this can give almost as much as I have learned in over 40 years of keeping puffers. It is overall a very impressive accomplishment and I suspect that it will be the puffer bible for decades to come.

Robert T. Ricketts, a.k.a. RTR


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